3 key questions for enterprise app development: Esri user conference

Users offer real-world experience in deploying data mapping apps

SAN DIEGO -- The Bavarian State Forest Administration in Germany has become twice as efficient in tasks such as keeping forest maps up to date, thanks to a new mobile app created with ArcGIS for Mobile, project manager Christian Simbeck told the Esri International User Conference yesterday.

But that app had to keep in mind the characteristics of would-be users: 1,200 or so employees, "many of whom represent a unique demographic," he said with a smile.

The enterprise application they developed for in-field mapping features "a quite simple user interface ... it's almost like a toy," Simbeck said. "So it's really nothing to frighten a 65-year-old Bavarian forester one year before retirement."

Key to the project's success was answering these questions, Simbeck said:

  • Who are your users or stakeholders? What are their characteristics?
  • Where do they work?
  • What are their workflows? "Don't just focus on maps or the required information product, but look at what they are doing, step by step," he advised. "Do precise requirements engineering. It is definitely worth the time."

Christian Simbeck, project manager at the Bavarian State Forest administration in Germany, speaks to the Esri user conference.

Award-winning project wasn't easy

Award-winning projects aren't necessarily quick or easy to implement. The Hong Kong Lands Department was recognized at this year's conference for an outstanding enterprise GIS (geographic information system) implementation, but when I spoke with two officials from the center, they recounted a lengthy process with staff resistance and a daunting challenge of dealing with legacy data.

The goal of the project was to move to a second-generation Esri system that would let them do more robust spatial analysis, answering key questions such as finding available land for new housing development. "It sounds simple but it's very complicated. We have to exclude a lot of things" based on characteristics ranging from topography to existing uses -- something that was impossible with the old systems, said Dominic Siu Wai-ching, deputy directory of survey and mapping. The project also consolidated multiple systems and databases into a single system.

Data for the new system is in a different format than what's used by the older one. And since rollout happened in 10 district offices as well as headquarters over many months, back-end infrastructure had to support both old and new formats.

The original plan was to have staff run both systems in parallel, said Ray Leung Kin-wah, chief land surveyor, but staff complained about the extra work. Instead, back-end infrastructure handled conversions, which still go on since users in other departments use data in the old format, so new mapping information is back-converted to the old format each night.

One key to the project's success was rigorous user acceptance testing, including 140 users across all 10 districts. It was worth it not only for user feedback, but to get employee buy-in that the process was fair and unbiased.

The more robust data format means surveyors need to enter more information into the system, so some of them are still complaining, Siu Wai-ching said. Overall, though, the new system allows the department to do double the number of plans per day that it used to as well as answer economically critical questions such as finding developable government-owned land in Hong Kong, where available property is an expensive commodity. Overall, said Leung Kin-way, "most of our staff our happy with the new system."

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ArcGIS Desktop 10.2 users will receive a subscription to ArcGIS Online as part of their annual maintenance plans, Esri President Jack Dangermond announced. Desktop 10.2 also features more than a dozen new analytics tools, including high-end hot-spot analysis, better integration with enterprise security and easier-to-use big data, he said. There are also new premium data services available, including weather and storm-prediction data from AccuWeather. Version 10.2 is expected to be released in a few weeks.

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Powerful and pricey, ArcGIS is available for non-commercial use, such as learning GIS or doing volunteer work, for $100 a year under the ArcGIS for Home Use program. Dangermond said at the conference that home users should get access to ArcGIS Online as well, although there has not yet been an official announcement on that.

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Esri Maps for Office, allowing ArcGIS capabilities within Excel, will now allow access to demographic data formerly only available within ArcGIS. - - - - - - - - - -

In a few months, Esri will be supporting a marketplace for ArcGIS-based apps.

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The year-old National Information Sharing Consortium is holding its first summit during the Esri conference. The NISC was launched a year ago by several state and local government officials seeking to better share code, tools and data for emergency preparedness and response. Sessions include ideas on building a public safety cloud environment.

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This year's conference features a continuously updating Urban Observatory exhibit featuring data mapping for several dozen criteria -- and then comparing that data for different cities. It was created by Richard Saul Wurman (also founder of the popular TED talks), Radical Media and Esri. You can see a Web-based version of the exhibit at urbanobservatory.org.

This article, 3 key questions for enterprise app development and more: Esri User Conference, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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